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Archive for July, 2013

4 Ways to Boost Shopper Interaction with Your Online Store

July 31st, 2013 Ashley Harbaugh No comments

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m easily distractible (and I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one). It’s a result of the technology environment we’re living in – being able to access nearly unlimited content from the Internet means that we also have nearly unlimited ways to occupy ourselves.

And with smartphones connecting us at any time, in any place, we’re pretty much able to fill up all the free minutes of our day with whatever we find interesting, cool, insightful, etc. And with so many options to choose from, it’s easy to hop around.

The key way to get visitors to stick around is to differentiate your website with features that make browsing an action, not just a passive activity. By enabling visitors to engage with your site, you set the groundwork for people to more strongly connect with your brand – which means more site visits, more purchases, and thus more revenues. 

Check out the different features below that help you get web browsers to participate with your website.

1. Offer Shoppers Product Configurability

Just as shoppers at brick-and-mortar store locations like to pick up and check out the merchandise before they buy it, e-commerce shoppers should be able to get a feel for a product before they purchase it as well.

Offering customers the ability to change up a product according to their preferences is an important way to get shoppers to involve themselves with your online store. Being able to change the color of a product on the page, or to get a 360-degree view of it, or to use a zoom in feature to get an up-close look at the material, etc., provide useful ways for customers to interact with your merchandise.

Offer Shoppers Product Configurability

The ability to zoom in to products or to configure them according to personal preferences allows shoppers to get a good look-and-feel of the product – which positively influences their decision to purchase.

The more creative ways you can get your customers to configure or engage with your products, the higher the likelihood that those customers will return – and also spread the word. For example, a clothing store I like to shop at has a really cool feature on their website where you can select the items of clothing, accessories, and shoes on the website to show up on the image of a real-life model. There is no limit on how many items you select to put on the model, and there is even the option to pick which color you want the clothing or shoes to appear as on the model.

This is really helpful because it allows me to see how an item on the website actually looks like on a person – which can be hard to figure out if you’re making that judgment based solely on a photo. Seeing how the product actually looks on a person makes me feel more familiar with the product, and it’s a persuasive factor in getting me to buy.

There’s also another bonus outcome of this type of product configuration – it’s a persuasive cross-selling tool. For example, if I see that the shirt, pants, shoes, and accessories I put on the model make a really cute outfit overall, it’s extremely tempting to get the whole enchilada. And again, it boils down to tailoring: by enabling shoppers to create what they really want with their products, and with the ease of purchasing that online shopping provides (it’s just a click of a button to purchase!), the merchant practically compels shoppers toward the checkout.

2. Add a Price Slider to Your Product Category Page

Allowing your customers to see great products within their price range gives them a good push toward buying them. And when they see great products that are even below their price range, it creates an even bigger push toward purchasing. (Because it’s always nice to see cool things that you can afford; seeing cool things that you can’t afford, however, can sometimes be a little depressing.)

Price sliders are helpful in filtering customers’ searches so that they see only the products within their set price parameters. With price sliders, shoppers can move the ends of the slider to the price range they feel comfortable with, and then the product page they are viewing will dynamically display only the products within that set price range.

Price sliders offer shoppers more control over their online shopping experience, allowing them to see the products they want to see. By empowering customers with more control over the products they have visibility and access to, merchants benefit from the customer tailoring the shopping to their own individual preferences – and more tailored means a greater chance of purchasing.

Add a Price Slider to Your Product Category Page

Price sliders allow customers to filter merchandise according to the price range they set. Price sliders allow shoppers to tailor their shopping experience, and thus with the more targeted selection of products from which shoppers can choose from, they more motivated they are to purchase.

3. Allow Customers to Add Reviews

Before buying something online, I like to check out reviews on the product first. Since buying online can sometimes be a bit of a leap of faith, it’s reassuring to see that real people have bought that product, and have shared their experience with it (good and bad).

Allowing your customers the ability to post and read reviews is a valuable feature for both you and the shopper. Providing an outlet on your site for people to share their opinions is an important way to get that customer engagement because the stronger the experience someone has had with a product, the more obliged they are to share that experience. Posting reviews is also a good way to boost search engine optimization, allowing you to improve your product rankings with unique content.

And don’t shy away from negative reviews either. It may seem counterintuitive, but those can also actually drive a customer to purchase as well. By allowing critical feedback to be posted, you signal that you’re not afraid of it – that your company stands by your products, and that you welcome honest, even if unfavorable, comments. Also, if there’s only 5-out-of-5 star, this is the best product ever!!! type of feedback posted, it just doesn’t come across as very credible.

Allow Customers to Add Reviews

Adding customer reviews (both positive and negative) builds trust and credibility between your online store and your customers. 

4. Connect Shoppers with Social Media

With social media playing such a significant role in connecting people, it is important to offer customers the ability to evangelize your brand on social media. Everyone likes to be the frontrunner in sharing new and exciting stuff (we all like to be trendsetters!), so give visitors to your site the chance to display your merchandise to their social media circles.

Enabling site visitors to share links to your products is an important first step in spreading awareness of your company brand and your merchandise. By allowing site visitors to post products that they purchased (and want to show off), or whether they want to share an item that’s on their wish list, social media sharing offers the potential to publicize your company and your products to new people – leading to new pools of potential customers.

Connect Shoppers with Social Media

Allowing customers to share your products on their social media sites expands your brand awareness, with the potential for driving more traffic to your website.

Purchasing: The Ultimate Form of Customer Participation

By providing fun, interactive, and useful features for visitors to use on your e-commerce store, you create a sales channel that actively engages your customers. With this engagement, you benefit from the valuable contributions your customers provide, both intangible (company publicity) and tangible (increased revenues).

For more information on how to drive traffic to your e-commerce channel, email us at ecommerce@ignify.com.

Ashley Harbaugh is a Product Marketing Specialist at Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, POS, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to mid-market and enterprise businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify is winner of the Microsoft Partner of the Year award in 2013, 2012 and 2011. Ignify offers Microsoft Dynamics AX, Dynamics AX for Retail POS and Dynamics CRM solutions for organizations. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 6 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and ranked as one of 100 most innovative companies in the world in the Red Herring Global 100 in 2011 and 2010.

Upgrading to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012

July 22nd, 2013 Sandeep Walia No comments

Microsoft has made significant changes in the upgrade path for Microsoft Dynamics AX. This article will primarily focus on the upgrades for major versions – e.g., Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 and Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009 to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 or Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2. It will not focus on the upgrade from Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2, which is a relatively straightforward and painless upgrade.

I’ll start by pointing out the obvious. If you are on Microsoft Dynamics AX 4.0 or Microsoft Dynamics AX 2009, don’t even consider going to the base version of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. You should go directly to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2 and the latest cumulative update. As of the date of writing this article that is CU6. So your target upgrade would be Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2 CU6 or later. There is enough new functionality in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2 + architectural improvements (e.g., support for data partitioning is only available in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2) that if you are doing an upgrade you may as well go to the version that offers the highest return. 

To do the major version upgrade, the main change is that the upgrade is now a ‘Source to Target’ model versus an ‘In – Place’ upgrade. In simple terms, you need a new environment for the target production upgraded instance – hence the upgrade is called Source to Target.  Before you could just do an upgrade on the same environment, and hence called an In Place upgrade. Clearly there is one downside, which is that there is the additional cost of the new environment required for doing this. Without being entirely dismissive about that cost, I’d like to point out three things that make this not such a bad scenario:

  1. Hardware costs have constantly decreased over the years and new hardware virtualized or non-virtualized is going to be the least expensive item of an upgrade.
  2. Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 has a significantly overhauled architecture. It provides significant flexibility and a lot of scale for high volume transactions but needs much more robust and scalable infrastructure than what prior versions required. So irrespective you will need to significantly update your hardware. Besides, if you implemented Dynamics AX 4 or Dynamics AX 2009, your hardware is likely to be at least 3 years old, which means it is likely fully depreciated or nearly fully depreciated and needs a refresh. This is the time to do it.
  3. There is a timing advantage of the Source to Target model, which can significantly reduce the downtime required in an upgrade. This is especially relevant for enterprise environments where there are high data volumes and where the pre-processing of data can take a significant amount of time.

Expanding on point 3 stated above a little bit more, I’ll illustrate the difference between the two upgrade paths. When you do an In Place upgrade, here is what your upgrade looks like. Notice the significant amount of down-time represented by the dark grey color.

Figure 1. In Place Upgrade for Microsoft Dynamics AX has more downtime.

Figure 1. In Place Upgrade for Microsoft Dynamics AX has more downtime.

On the other hand, when you do a Source to Target upgrade, you can pre-process your data online and parallel prepare your target system for the upgrade by doing the installations of SQL Server, Microsoft Dynamics AX Server, Help Server, and ensuring all permissions are correctly granted. What this does is significantly reduce the downtime required as most of the time of the upgrade the source production system is online.

Figure 2. The Source to Target Model for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 upgrades lowers the amount of downtime as the production system is online for most of the upgrade.

Figure 2. The Source to Target Model for Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 upgrades lowers the amount of downtime as the production system is online for most of the upgrade.

Microsoft has made the upgrade process fairly streamlined despite the significant change in architecture. The most significant change in the architecture is the move towards a model store architecture, which allows high performance run time layer flattening. During the upgrade, the prior model (AOD) is upgraded to the Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 model store architecture as shown in the diagram below.

As part of the upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, the older architecture is converted to the new model store architecture, which enables higher performance.

Figure 3. As part of the upgrade to Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, the older architecture is converted to the new model store architecture, which enables higher performance.

Key to streamlining the upgrade process is a set of checklists that define the tasks required for an upgrade.

  1. Preprocessing upgrade checklist: Tasks that prepare data on the source system for export into the database schema of a Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 R2.
  2. AOD code upgrade checklist: Tasks that are involved in migrating any customized code in legacy AOD files to the model architecture of a Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 or later system.
  3. Model code upgrade checklist: Tasks that are involved in migrating any customized code in legacy models to the most recent Microsoft Dynamics AX release.
  4. Data upgrade checklist: Tasks that are involved in upgrading imported data on a Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 or later target system.

Reporting changes: The old model of reporting in Microsoft Dynamics AX has been retired and all reports in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 are built on SQL Server reporting services (SSRS). This includes several benefits, including providing the ability to schedule reports with native SSRS capability as well as the ability to export all reports into Microsoft Excel, Word, XML etc.

For a more detailed discussion on your upgrade needs, please email us at dynamics@ignify.com and schedule a phone call with our Dynamics AX upgrade team.

Sandeep Walia is the Chief Executive Officer of Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, POS, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to mid-market and enterprise businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify is winner of the Microsoft Partner of the Year award in 2013, 2012 and 2011. Ignify offers Microsoft Dynamics AX, Dynamics AX for Retail POS and the Dynamics CRM solutions for organizations. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 6 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and ranked as one of 100 most innovative companies in the world in the Red Herring Global 100 in 2011 and 2010. Sandeep was ranked in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 in the Microsoft Dynamics Top 100 Most Influential People List by DynamicsWorld. Ignify has offices and team members in Southern California, Northern California, Arizona, Tennessee, Washington, Florida, Pennsylvania, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, and Philippines.

3 Tips for Ensuring CRM User Adoption

July 22nd, 2013 Ashley Harbaugh No comments

With Ignify being both a Microsoft Dynamics CRM vendor and user, a recent article in CRM Buyer magazine titled “CRM Vendors are the Worst CRM Practitioners” definitely caught my attention.  Tell us what you really think, CRM Buyer.

The core argument of the article, an argument that is 100% correct, is: “If a vendor can't effectively use its own application, how are you going to do it?”

How can customers trust a vendor to implement and configure a CRM system if the vendor doesn't fully understand or use it? How can a customer truly learn about, and benefit from, the powerful sales, marketing, and customer service functionality that a CRM system offers if the vendor doesn't appreciate, or act on, those benefits themselves?

Ignify fully recognized how important Microsoft Dynamics CRM was as a customer relationship management tool, streamlining and consolidating sales and customer service data and processes. And Ignify also recognized that in order to guide our customers toward success with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we as a company needed to know the system inside out. To understand the mindset of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM end user, we knew that we needed to be an end user as well.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the core of Ignify’s sales and customer service operations, supporting our team members with crucial data and insight into our company’s processes.

Read our three tips for ensuring successful, across-the-board adoption of your CRM system in your organization.

1. Treat CRM as a Discipline, Not an Application

According to the article, “One of the main reasons SMB CRM users drop their vendors is because they don't engage with their CRM application, and that's because they're treating it like an application and not a discipline – just as their vendor does.”

Yes, a CRM system is technically an application. But instead of looking at it as just a piece of software, it’s important to look at it as a key business element.

Ignify has incorporated Microsoft Dynamics CRM into the business by structuring the company’s sales processes on it. For example, if a lead comes in, it is first sent to lead management team members who first research the lead contact, and then assign the lead to the correct salesperson. The salesperson is then responsible for updating contact information with further details, as well as tracking communication.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the gatekeeper of sales information, with the entire sales team recognizing this and acting accordingly. In fact, a motto of the sales team is, “If it’s not in CRM, then it doesn't exist.” If a sales team member does not keep his or her data fresh and up-to-date, then the executive management team is not able to identify or provide the resources that the sales team member needs.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM consolidates all sales data in one place

Microsoft Dynamics CRM consolidates all sales data in one place, providing a central database for lead and opportunity information, customer information, etc.

2. Get Executive Buy-In

Team members follow the example of their leaders. If their boss uses a particular application, and if the boss expects them to use that application as well, then the team is going to use it – period.

As explained in the point above, if an Ignify executive cannot see what the status, or progress, of a deal is, then he or she cannot provide the support that will best help the sales representative. In fact, when sales meetings occur at Ignify, the Ignify Microsoft Dynamics CRM system is the main focal point of the meeting. The executive team runs down the list of sales leads and opportunities in the system, and then asks questions based on the information there.

To ensure that your team members organization-wide successfully use CRM, you need to make sure that each member of your executive team is on board. Confirm that your executives recognize and understand the value of a CRM system – enhanced visibility into the sales pipeline; lead management automation; in-depth analytical and reporting capabilities; etc. If an executive fully appreciates how important a CRM system is as a business tool, then they’re going to use it.

Dashboard and chart capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics CRM

By showing executives the in-depth, powerful analytical and reporting tools within a CRM system (such as the dashboard and chart capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, pictured above), you communicate the business value of the system. And the sooner that value is recognized, the sooner you will get them on board.

3. Make Sure CRM Works with Employees’ Processes

We are all creatures of habit – it can be tough learning new things, or changing up routines. When selecting a CRM system, you want to choose one that’s intuitive to how your company works – a system that will easily and smoothly fit into your employees’ work lives. Because the less disruption that a CRM solution’s implementation causes a company’s individual workers, then the more quickly they can transition to the system.

Since Ignify is a Microsoft shop, Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s ability to integrate directly to Microsoft Outlook was a hugely valuable asset. Being able to access the CRM database right from Outlook, as well as the ability to track emails to customers and prospects with just a click of a button, saves time and keeps sales reps on top of tasks. Since the Ignify team uses Microsoft Outlook on a daily basis, having Microsoft Dynamics CRM within the Outlook application itself made it easy to incorporate Microsoft Dynamics CRM into their daily habits as well. And because the Ignify team is so well-accustomed to Outlook, Microsoft Dynamics CRM’s integration tools with Outlook provided team members additional familiarity with the CRM system.

Walking the Walk

By using Microsoft Dynamics CRM to support business processes, Ignify understands not only the software itself but also the mindset of the end customer. What better way to grasp the needs, concerns, and wants of a Microsoft Dynamics CRM customer than by being a customer yourself?

As the article states, “When you can’t capitalize on CRM, it sends a message that no one can. Instead of paying lip service to what CRM ought to be, vendors need to assert their expertise, walk the walk, and take pride in setting the pace as the world’s best CRM practitioners.”

Ignify knows how a CRM solution can take a business to the next level. Does your CRM vendor?

If you have questions or would like more information, please email us at crm@ignify.com.

Ashley Harbaugh is a Product Marketing Specialist at Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 5 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and ranked as one of 100 most innovative companies in the world in the Red Herring Global 100 in 2011.

Visualize Live CRM Data Using Power View for Microsoft Excel 2013

July 12th, 2013 Abi Shende No comments

The ability to efficiently access and break down data allows businesses to more effectively strategize and implement successful courses of action. Open Data Protocol, also known as OData, is a web protocol for querying and updating data, applying web technologies to provide access to information from a variety of different data sources.

Microsoft Excel 2013 offers a new data source called OData Data Feed. This enables you to import live data feeds from various data sources, including free and subscription-based data sources available on Windows Azure Marketplace. You can then use these live data feeds in Excel for analysis and reporting.

Microsoft Excel 2013 allows users to import live data feeds from different sources into the application for analysis and reporting purposes

Microsoft Excel 2013 allows users to import live data feeds from different sources into the application for analysis and reporting purposes.

Interestingly, Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 also offers an OData data feed that can be used to retrieve live CRM data into any application using OData protocol. You can find the service endpoint for OData service by navigating to Settings > Customizations > Developer Resources.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers an OData data feed that can be used to retrieve live CRM data into any application using OData protocol

Microsoft Dynamics CRM offers an OData data feed that can be used to retrieve live CRM data into any application using OData protocol.

Using a combination of these features, you can now create a live connection to your Dynamics CRM data and generate interesting reports and dashboards using Excel.

For connecting to Dynamics CRM OData service, follow these steps.

In Excel 2013, click Data > From Other Sources > From OData Data Feed. Enter the service endpoint link above and click “Next”.

The Data Connection Wizard presents the list of data sets available in Dynamics CRM

The Data Connection Wizard presents the list of data sets available in Dynamics CRM. For the purpose of this article, we will select AccountSet (Accounts) and OpportunitySet (Opportunities).

Excel allows you to use this data to populate a Table, PivotTable Report, PivotChart or Power View Report

Excel allows you to use this data to populate a Table, PivotTable Report, PivotChart or Power View Report. We will select Power View.

When you click OK, Excel  retrieves the data from Dynamics CRM and populates the data in PowerPivot Data  Model

When you click OK, Excel retrieves the data from Dynamics CRM and populates the data in PowerPivot Data Model. This can take some time depending on the volume of data being retrieved. There are tools available to limit the data by using the OData query instead of retrieving the full data set. You can view the PowerPivot Data Model by clicking on PowerPivot > Manage Data Model.

The following screenshot shows the data model in the diagram view. Excel does not automatically create the relationship between the tables. However, you can do this manually using the PowerPivot features. This is important when you want to use data from multiple tables in the PivotTable or Power View report.

Once the data model is  populated, the data is available for reporting in Excel

Once the data model is populated, the data is available for reporting in Excel.

The first Power View report shows the Open Opportunities by Account Chart and the Opportunities table. Clicking on the specific bar in the chart automatically filters the Opportunities table based on the relationship we defined earlier.

The second Power View report shows the Opportunities on the map

The second Power View report shows the Opportunities on the map. Maps in Power View display your data in the context of geography. Maps in Power View use Bing map tiles, so you can zoom and pan as you would with any other Bing map. Clicking on a dot on the map automatically filters the opportunities in the table below. The size of the dot represents the estimated value of the opportunity.

Because the reports use the data feed from Dynamics CRM, they can be refreshed any time to see the current view of the data

Because the reports use the data feed from Dynamics CRM, they can be refreshed any time to see the current view of the data.

OData helps businesses access valuable information in various applications and thus put that data to good use. In this article, we reviewed how we can take advantage of OData data source and Power View to better analyze live Dynamics CRM data in Microsoft Excel 2013. 

Abi Shende is a Team Lead in Microsoft Dynamics CRM at Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of ERP, CRM, and eCommerce software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 5 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and ranked as one of 100 most innovative companies in the world in the Red Herring Global 100 in 2011.